The Israelites were safe at home, but outside a terrible storm was raging.
told by Deborah
While they were still in Egypt, God told Moses and Aaron: “This month will be the beginning of the year for you.
“Tell all the people of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to get a lamb for each household…. and keep it until the fourteenth day; then all of the Israelites will assemble together and slaughter it at sunset.
“They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.
“They shall eat the lamb that same night. It is to be roasted over the fire, whole, served with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
“Don't leave any leftovers; whatever remains in the morning you shall burn.
“You are to eat it dressed for departure; your shoes on, your coat buttoned, and your bags packed; and eat it quickly.
“It is the passover of the Lord because I will pass through Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land, human beings and animals alike; this is the judgment I pronounce on all the gods of Egypt: I am the Lord.
“The blood will be a sign on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and you’ll be safe when I strike the land of Egypt.
“This day will be a day of remembrance for you. You will celebrate it as a festival to the Lord perpetually; you will celebrate it for all generations to come.”
“Feast on lamb with your families … and that night I, the Lord your God, will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, human beings and animals alike; but will pass over your homes.”
As I read this passage I remembered an evening several years ago. We had hosted a particularly delightful party at our house in honor of a friend’s 40th birthday; there was lots of laughter, good conversation, and fun that lasted long into the night. We went to bed filled with good cheer and good food.
The next morning we were awakened by a phone call. John’s cousin Gianna had died during that night as she gave birth to a baby daughter.
We were stunned into wordlessness; beyond shock, beyond tears. While we had been laughing, one of the kindest and gentlest of souls had been breathing her last. It was so incongruous, and just wrong. I felt somehow guilty, tainted: how could we have been celebrating in the midst of death? How could we be rejoicing at a time of sorrow?
I imagine the Israelites on that first Passover night, gathered together with their families as the angel of death stormed over the land, wantonly destroying the eldest of every creature. Can they have looked at the faces of their children and rejoiced, when all around them others — who loved as deeply, and hurt as profoundly — were suffering grief and despair?
Can they have found cause to celebrate, knowing that the doting new parents across the street would awaken to a silent cradle, that the little girl next door would desperately tug at the cold and lifeless hand of her beloved grandfather? Could they have been joyful when, in the field outside, a ewe nuzzled the lamb who lay so still and silent, a white dove circled her fallen mate, and the hillsides echoed with the wailing of the wolves mourning their dead?
How can we sing the Lord’s song in an alien land?
~ Psalm 137:4
No. I do not think it was a festival of rejoicing, but of recognition. As Death raged outside, sweeping its victims away in a bloody tide, without regard for guilt or innocence, the Israelite families sheltered together, fully aware that it could just as readily have been their lives that were taken. Only some inexplicable grace had kept them safe. Unmerited, unearned, miraculous.
This was not a celebration of the suffering of their neighbors, but a thanks-giving for their own salvation — and for the awareness this night of destruction had brought: to remain would be to risk almost-certain death; they had to escape. It was not safe to stay in Egypt.
Somehow they had missed that fact. The pattern of illness and decay, of harsh labor and slow disintegration, had become normal. Death was familiar; it was expected, anticipated, accepted. Even desired.
They did not know what it was to live.
Israelites had struggled, suffered, and perished by the hundreds, perhaps hundreds of thousands, enslaved in unending, wearying work. Great pyramids were constructed as tombs for the pharaohs, mausoleums to preserve their bodies and enshrine their spirits. To the laborers far down the food chain, uninitiated in the religion, the gods of the Egyptians traded only in death — for those who worshiped them, and for those who built their temples.
It was as if the divine spirit that was unleashed on the Egyptians that Passover night was their own god, turning against his own people, bestowing the only gift that a god of death could give. Whatever it was, and whatever the cause, the message was clear: in order to survive, the Israelites had to get away.
On that night several thousand individuals became a community, aware of their shared hopes and fears; the weak discovered their strength, the worthless realized their value. A new people was born out of a culture of death. The God of the living made Godself known.
As the night begins God informs Moses and Aaron that this event must be embedded in the national consciousness; it must be celebrated each and every year, down through the generations. The divine mandate is given: Passover must never be forgotten.
Passover must never be forgotten. It is a consecration of life’s value and extraordinary potential. It proclaims hope and new beginnings even in the midst of terrible troubles. It is the recognition that in the midst of life, death swirls around us — but it is not the end; death’s authority is temporary and temporal. God’s power to lead us to life is far greater than all that would enslave and degrade us.
Passover is the celebration of the birth of the Jewish people. It commemorates the beginning of their long and difficult journey to becoming the People of the Living God, the journey that we Christians aspire to be a part of.
Our tradition has claimed that what we know as “the Lord’s Supper” / the Eucharist was first a Passover (Seder) meal celebrated by our Lord Jesus with his disciples. To understand our Great Feast within that context is to honor the fact that our Jesus of Nazareth was born, lived, and died a Jew: “they” are our sisters and brothers. It is also a warning that we, like the Israelites in Egypt, can be enslaved by our culture: demeaned and disempowered as being “of no value or importance.” It is a statement of faith in God’s lasting power to save and restore.
When we take the Bread and Wine standing up, with our shoes on and our coats buttoned, we affirm our readiness to respond to God’s call immediately; it is also a humble admission that we may be headed the wrong way — and are willing to turn around, and to go as the Beloved leads us. This very day.
Perhaps the most important aspect of such a “Passover mentality” is a grateful heart. We come to the Table thankful for the life we have been given, the good we have enjoyed, the love we have known. And we remember, tenderly, those who are no longer present; their memories a blessing.
Let us give thankful praise to the God of the Passover, who leads us on the path of life.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
It has been suggested that the god we worship is the god we get. As presented in this short-form version of the Passover, the Egyptians’ obsession (idolizing/worship) of death appears to have turned against them. What might that mean for our culture? What do we idolize that might turn on us and destroy us?
On a personal level, who is God for you? What is the defining characteristic of the One you worship?